Student Francesco Monticone Accepts Cornell Faculty Position

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August 1, 2016

WNCG Graduate Student, and recent winner of the WNCG Student Leadership Award,   Francesco Monticone, recently accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University. Monticone received a BS and MS in Electronics Engineering from Politecnico di Torino in Italy, and is a member of Prof. Andrea Alù’s Metamaterials and Plasmonics Research Group. His research interests include applied electromagnetics, metamaterials, plasmonics and nanophotonics with applications ranging from microwaves to optical frequencies. At WNCG, Monticone is advised by Prof. Andrea Alù.

Monticone sat down with WNCG to share his recent success, offer career advice to current students and reminisce about his time at WNCG.

How did you originally connect with the opportunity at Cornell?

The academic job market is very competitive, so I applied to several top schools across the nation. As one of the best universities in the world and widely regarded as the top Ivy League engineering school, Cornell was clearly at the top of my list. I sent them my application package last fall, and after a few months I was happy to hear the application was well-received by Cornell faculty. The hiring committee scheduled a phone interview with me and then invited me for a two-day on-site interview. A few days later, they extended an official job offer and I gladly accepted.

You received offers from many universities, why choose Cornell over the other offers?

After my onsite interview, I already knew Cornell was the right place for me. Cornell’s tradition, culture and values are grand and inspiring. In addition, the faculty members I met during my visit left a good impression on me, which is important since they could be lifelong colleagues.

I received job offers from two other schools and a San Francisco based startup company. While my job search lasted for months, all the offers came within two weeks or so and I had to make a life-changing decision in a matter of days.

I spoke to my closest friends and mentors, who gave me useful advice on how to make the best decision. On a practical note, Cornell made a particularly good offer, especially in terms of research funds, which will allow me to start my career in the best possible way. In the end, choosing Cornell just felt right.

What led you to choose an academic career path instead of a corporate one?

The choice between academia and corporate boils down to a person’s personality and goals. I have always felt more suited for academia. I value the freedom to choose and pursue research problems, to seek new knowledge and invent new things. I value the possibility to have a positive impact on the lives of my students, just as my advisor and mentors have had a positive impact on my life and career. This is a great privilege and great responsibility.

What do you look forward to the most about being a faculty member? What do you foresee being the biggest challenge?

I look forward to establishing an independent research group, doing cross-disciplinary research and making an impact on my field and society. I look forward to mentoring some of the brightest students on the planet, and collaborating with the outstanding faculty members at Cornell and other universities.

I look forward to a lifetime of collaborations with my friends at UT Austin who have also chosen an academic path, and to building a strong network of people rooted in the personal relationships I built while at UT Austin and WNCG.

A tenure-track, academic job is full of challenges, such as the responsibility to bring in necessary funding to support and grow your research group, which is why I find it so exciting. In general, to be successful in academia you need to be a great scholar, teacher, mentor, speaker, writer, manager and more, all at the same time.

I am confident that my years at UT and the advice and example of my advisor have prepared me to tackle these challenges.

How has your time with WNCG and your advisor prepared you for this new role?

The best decision of my professional life was to enroll in UT Austin and join Prof. Alù’s research group. After I finished my master’s program in Italy, I had no doubt the best place for me to continue my graduate studies was at UT Austin. I did not apply to any other school.

Prof. Alù has been the best advisor and mentor a student can hope for, and I will always be indebted to him for his influence on my life and career. His dedication, energy, curiosity and passion set a great example for his students. He taught me invaluable skills and the right mindset to have to be successful in this field. Having a great advisor and being exposed to the UT Austin and WNCG environments created the perfect conditions for me to thrive and prepare for an academic career.

What advice from your life and career can you offer current students with similar aspirations?

My general suggestion is to work hard but work smart as well. It is important to learn efficiency, and not to confuse activity with productivity. We are all hard workers, but you can easily work day and night with little or no real progress. Learning to prioritize and focus on what matters goes a long way.

Also, try to develop a thick-skin. Your papers will be rejected, some projects will turn out to be dead ends, and you will receive tough comments from your peers. Don’t take it personally-- it happens to everybody and is just part of the process. Just try to win more battles than you lose.

And just one more suggestion--pursuing a PhD is a great journey, so remember to enjoy it.

What was your most memorable moment during your time with WNCG?

There have been so many memorable moments over the past five years it is difficult to single out a specific one. I’ll always remember the good times spent with friends, like the many weekend nights we spent on sixth street, often talking about science between drinks. Or having barbecues and watching Italian soccer matches at Prof. Alù’s house.

I also fondly remember the first conferences I attended, where I discovered how much I enjoy discussing research, and where I first met many people who have become great friends and mentors, like Dr. Nader Engheta from the University of Pennsylvania.

Looking back, I have not been bored a single day in the past five years. The entire experience has been memorable.

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